College hazing and binge drinking: What parents need to know

Beer pong tournament layout. Many red party cups in a nightclub full of people dancing on the dance floor in the background. Perfect for marketing and promotion for event. Plastic mugs on wooden table
The perils of college drinking is an important topic that parents must discuss with their almost-of-age offspring.

As parents engage in the annual ritual of taking their children to college, many for their freshman year, it’s a critical time to talk about another ritual: fraternity and sorority hazing and binge drinking. Turns out it’s not such a brotherly or sisterly behavior.

One piece of evidence for this occurred in February. Pledges to a Penn State fraternity were instructed to run a “gauntlet” where they chugged vodka, beer and wine, according to testimony given in a preliminary hearing in July. One college student died after he fell down stairs (twice) and suffered a brain injury, ruptured spleen, and collapsed lung. His blood-alcohol level was between 0.28 percent and 0.36 percent — more than four times the legal limit for drivers.

Its history. Hazing dates to 1845. It remains a rite of passage for many college fraternities and sororities. We all know that just because it is historical doesn’t mean it’s right or safe. In fact, there has been at least one hazing death each year from 1969 to 2017. Nowadays, more than 6,100 fraternity chapters exist on about 800 college campuses in the United States and Canada, according to data from the North American Interfraternity Conference. DePauw University in Indiana and Washington and Lee University in Virginia are two high scorers and are the only two colleges where more than three-quarters of male undergraduates are in fraternities. Like Penn State, great schools but, wow, so much Greek life!

Hazing is against the law. In legal terms, hazing is abuse a student must endure to gain admittance to an organization, and it can include forcing students to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. Sounds like torture, right? Right! Most colleges and universities have policies against hazing. The criminal charge usually depends on whether the student suffers actual physical harm; if so, most states prosecute it as a felony. Eight of the fraternity students involved in the hazing death mentioned above were initially charged with such crimes as involuntary manslaughter, although those more serious counts were later dropped.

When hazing involves alcohol, it is binge drinking. How much is too much? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 grams percent. Translation: when men consume five or more drinks, and when women consume four or more drinks in about two hours. Not a happy hour!

Binge drinking and alcohol abuse have serious risks.

Related directly to the toxic effects of alcohol on the body: stroke, heart and liver diseases, cancers such as breast and gastrointestinal cancers; memory and learning problems.

  • Resulting from the altered mental state: Motor vehicle crashes and other accidents, homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault

So should college fraternities and sororities be banned?  No, but they should be better supervised. Drinking at colleges also occurs outside of fraternities and sororities. I would prefer that all college campuses be “dry.” Unfortunately, I’m just one doctor. For some college students, drinking at college is often seen as a necessary part of their higher education experience. Again, here’s the evidence: Almost 60 percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol in the last month, and almost two out of three of them engaged in binge drinking during that same time frame, according to a national survey. Researchers estimate that, each year, about 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle accidents.

Drinking on college campuses affects everyone. Researchers estimate that about 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and about 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Parents, please don’t think “not my child.” Your teenagers probably won’t tell you that they are drinking. Talk to them about this blog. Let’s make hazing deaths history and keep binge drinking out of our kids’ future.